Closure Is Not Comfort

I recently reached closure in a family matter. A legacy matter.  I did not think I would ever achieve any peace when it came to matters of my mother’s stuff, the unfortunate legacy of disquiet that settled, like the heavy dust and grime of neglect over long stretches of time, on the things left unsettled between the time of my mother’s decline and passing in 2007 until these past few months.

I share this recent story of achieving closure so that perhaps someone will glean a bit of information that clicks on a lightbulb on for them or that can be inform a course of action.

I try to let go of thinking about events throughout my life that cause me pain.  But I am not always successful in doing so.  I knew before I turned thirty that when a person of personal significance passes on that such a death can be mourned with acceptance.  A “What’s done is done” attitude guided this type of remembrance in my father’s passing.   It is empowering.  When my father died when I was 29 I realized that I could choose to remember him well or poorly, but that the choice was up to me.  I still choose pleasant or funny memories of him, and through time other memories fade.  

Dad’s passing was one of the few deaths with which I could do this.  

I was also able to accept my mother’s passing.  She was 92,  a long life.  I moved back to her farm to care for her during the last few months of her life.  There was always a chasm between us but we had found ways to narrow it during the last decades of her life.  I had been able to arrive at a point during the last four years of her life where I could say, to myself, “She may not have always been the best, or kindest, of mothers, but that did not mean that couldn’t be a good daughter.”  Choose was the operative word here.  I had the power to be the best I could be, and could attempt to create the best relationship between us I could evoke.  

I was less accepting of the deaths of my brothers. One passed in 1998, one in 2005, one in 2014, and one in 2015.  All felt as though there was unfinished business with them, or for them, or from them.  

The handling of Mom’s estate was arduous when it did not have to be so, and it was an extremely painful time because my brother, the executor, seemed to delight in denying the simplest of my requests and my mother’s behests in regard to me.  

I now know that this brother was in the early stages of dementia, suffered  paranoia and PTSD, as well as untreated diabetes, and what I have come to believe was metallosis from shrapnel that remained in him all his life due to injuries he suffered in Quảng Trị Province on August 5th, 1968.  All of these things together caused him to create and guard his own little hill, a slice of my parent’s original farmstead, just as he had guarded hills in Vietnam.  

I was saddened by the life my brother lived, by the life and happiness that eluded him.  I understand why he was the way he was.  But that did not translate into quiet acceptance.  Acceptance was not achieved until my recent trip to the country estate that my brother had fashioned with love and perhaps some misguided purpose until about 2010 when his health rapidly worsened.  His land and home had begun to deteriorate by 2011.  Within three years after his death the homestead was in advanced decay.  

During that trip I was able to find and rescue a few family items and photographs that allowed me to achieve a closure I had thought would be denied to me.  

Was it finding my Grandmother Osborn’s blue cut crystal canoe or salvaging and saving the walnut cupboard my Grandfather Osborn crafted by hand one hundred years ago?  Maybe it was finding family photos I had thought to be in a landfill?

These things helped me find closure.  But that is not the whole story.  The process was far deeper and more meaningful than simply finding “things.” I take some comfort in all that happened this past month.  But this closure should not be confused with any kind of warm and fuzzy comfort.  There is a phrase, cold comfort; maybe that is what I feel.   And though there is little comfort there is relief and knowing I have done all I could have ever been expected to do, and more.  

Other posts this month are about discovering and accepting, or what might be called coming to a reckoning, with memories, the past, and spirits who lived on the land.